Supporters together reflect on Malang stadium disaster: ‘We are brothers’

Supporters together reflect on Malang stadium disaster: ‘We are brothers’


NOS News

  • Mustafa Marghadi

    Southeast Asia correspondent

  • Mustafa Marghadi

    Southeast Asia correspondent

Football fans from different parts of Indonesia gathered at FC Arema stadium in Malang yesterday to commemorate the victims of the disaster that took place in the stadium seven days ago. At least 130 people were killed, mainly in the panic that broke out after police officers fired tear gas canisters at the audience in the stands.

“It was terrible what we experienced. This was different tear gas than I am used to. And I am used to some tear gas, but this burned enormously,” says a member of the hard core of FC Arema supporters. He is traumatized by events at the stadium.

What he saw there was completely beyond his imagination. “I ran up the stairs to exit 9 and saw four dead people piled on top of each other. One of them was lying with his neck on a step. Broken, and completely turned over.”

Arema’s biggest rivals are also deeply affected by the horrific stories of eyewitnesses. Rivals with whom the hard core of Arema supporters once fought deadly battles. They have buried their battle ax – temporarily or otherwise.

“I am grateful that they are there. Grateful for their support,” says the Arema supporter, when he sees his arch-rivals during a memorial service.

‘Fault of the police’

Fanatic football fans in Indonesia are regularly confronted with violence. Supporters often clash with each other, sometimes with fatal consequences. An estimated 75 people have been killed by football violence since 2004. But no supporters of the opponent were present at the stadium disaster in Malang. It is clear to football fans throughout Indonesia: this was the fault of the police.

That is something that is familiar to not only football fans, but also protesters in Indonesia. Security analysts concluded in The New York Times: The police are too heavily armed, poorly trained in crowd control and accountable to almost no one. The police have developed a culture of ‘hit first, ask questions later’.

That is why, despite the rock-solid hooligan culture, there is suddenly so much mutual support and understanding. A fanatic football follower points out that all supporters now have a common enemy. “That’s the police because of the violence. The brutality of the police is our common enemy.”

Images show how the supporters storm the field afterwards:

Huge stadium disaster in Indonesia

The avid fan of Persija Jakarta has also come to Malang to attend the memorial service along with ten thousand others. “This is a moment of reflection for us, where we think about our rivalry and the violence that comes with it.”

‘Never back’

Ivo belongs to the hard core of Arema FC, but he doesn’t want anything to do with it anymore. He saw his friends crushed to death in front of the locked door of exit 10. “Nobody came to help us. Neither did the police. I somehow survived, but I never have to go back to a stadium.”

For many supporters, the fun is in the true passion for football. In the emotion, which is often bottled up in the hyper-polite Indonesian society, but is allowed to erupt in the stands. But Ivo will never find pleasure in the stadium again. “I won’t get my friends back with it. I left my soul there. And it will take a long time to get it back.”

Ivo has little confidence that those ultimately responsible will be punished. Six suspects have now been identified, but that is not enough, he says. “The boss of the football association is not among them. Not the head of the regional police. Only when they are punished do I believe in justice.”

Until that happens, football supporters threaten to take to the streets. “But that must be done jointly and nationally,” says the supporter.

Crying and singing

Fans of Persebaya Surabaya are somewhat nervous in front of their bus, while fans of arch-rival Arema come towards them. But instead of clubs and machetes like in the past, they now come with polite bows and hugs. There is crying and singing. “We are brothers, Arema. We are brothers.”

How long this unit will last remains to be seen. A Persebaya fan hopes so. “So that from now on the rivalry will only exist on the field. And no longer outside it.”


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